How the PGA is trying to fix golf's image

PGA of America CEO wants golf to be more inclusive
PGA of America CEO wants golf to be more inclusive

Golf has a reputation for being elitist and resistant to change.

Augusta National only accepted women as members in 2012, and one recent report found that the face of the sport -- overwhelmingly white -- hasn't changed in decades.

To broaden golf's appeal, the PGA of America is trying to strengthen the women's game, get more children and adults to play, and hold more big tournaments at public courses, not just at exclusive country clubs.

"We know that this game needs more diversity. It needs to be more accessible," PGA CEO Peter Bevacqua told CNNMoney. "We have to put our flag in the ground and say, 'Hey, we're serious about this.'"

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The PGA didn't have a tournament for women until 2015, when it took over the LPGA championship and renamed it the Women's PGA Championship. (The LPGA, like the U.S. Golf Association and even the PGA Tour, is separate from the PGA of America. The PGA's main job is to grow the game in the United States and support golf pros at clubs.)

That event includes a networking program that encourages women to use the game to advance their careers. Women can get lessons in leadership from women like former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Bevacqua, who took the job in 2012, said he is most proud of the tournament. He said the magnitude of the change struck him when he walked into headquarters after the first championship.

"You were greeted by all of the pictures of all of our champions, and for the first time we had a woman up there," he said.

Bevacqua said golf will one day be like tennis and have men and women playing the same tournaments at the same time.

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To bring new players in, the PGA is trying to publicize the game more -- a break from the usual approach.

"I think we've kind of stood back and said, 'Well, if people want to play golf they're going to come find us,'" Bevacqua said. "We can't do that. We have to be far more aggressive ... and go out and find people."

One obvious way is to attract young fans. Under Bevacqua, the PGA is going into communities and schools to expose more kids to the game. It helped develop Drive, Chip and Putt, a free national tournament for junior golfers.

When the program launched in 2014, there were 110 local events in 19 states. Now there are 268 all across the country.

The PGA is also relying on the roughly 29,000 golf pros it represents to attract another key demographic -- adult golfers. The PGA offers a program called Get Golf Ready under which players can get five lessons from a golf pro for just $99.

Bevacqua also hopes his work to get golf into the 2016 Rio Olympics will help attract new players.

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To make the sport more inclusive, Bevacqua is committed to hosting more tournaments at public courses.

Under Bevacqua, the 2019 PGA Championship was awarded to Bethpage Black, a public course in New York, and the 2020 PGA Championship will be played at the public TPC Harding Park, a course in San Francisco.

"That's a powerful story because those golf courses are open to everybody. They're very affordable," Bevacqua said. "We think that's a powerful signal for the game."

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To change and grow the game, Bevacqua insists, golf needs to focus on what makes it unique.

"If you're home watching the PGA Championship ... later that day or the next day, you can go out there and play that same exact golf course," Bevacqua said. "That's special. Golf is different in that way, and we have to capitalize on those differences."

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